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Very tricky question. I won't answer it in two ways:

  1. As I indicated, in terms of navigation/organization scheme, LW is completely untraditional. It still feels to me like a dark museum of wonder, of unfathomable depth. I get to something new, and mind-blowing, every time I surf around. So it's a delightful labyrinth, that unfolds like a series of connected thoughts anyway you work it. It's an advanced navigation toolset, usable only by people who are able to conceptualize vast abstract constructs... which is the target audience... or is it?

  2. I've been in the usability business too long to make UI pronouncements without user research. We've got a very specific user base, not defined by typical demo/sociographics, but by affinity. Few common usability heuristics would apply blindly to this case.

But among the few that would:

  • Improved legibility, typographic design, visual hierarchy
  • Flexible, mobile to wide-screen self-optimizing layout
  • More personalized features (dashboard, analytics, watch lists, alerts, etc.) although many are implicitly available through feeds, permalinks, etc.
  • Advanced comments/post management tools for power-users (I'm guessing there might be a need, through I am not one by any means.)

But, again, I think we have a rare thing here: A user base that is smart enough to optimize its own tools. Normally, the best user experience practitioners will tell you that you should research, interview and especially observe your users, but never ever ever just listen to them. They don't know what they really want, wouldn't know how to explain it, and what they want isn't even close to what they actually need. Would LW users be different? And would design by committee work here? I'm very dubious, but curious.

Does anyone know the back-story of how this website evolved? Was it a person, a team, or the whole group designing it?


Thanks for the irony!


Lesswrong is certainly designed for the advanced user. Most everything on the site is non-standard, which seriously impedes usability for the new user. Considering the topic and intended audience, I'd say it's a feature, not a bug.

Nonetheless, the site definitely smacks of unix-geekery. It could be humanized somewhat, and that probably wouldn't hurt.


Anti-vaccination activists base their beliefs not on the scientific evidence, but on the credibility of the source. Not having enough scientific education to be able to tell the difference, they have to go to plan B: Trust.

The medical and scientific communities in the USA are not as well-trusted as they should be, for a variety of reasons. One is that the culture is generally suspicious of intelligence and education, equating them with depravity and elitism. Another is that some doctors and scientists in the US ignore their responsibility to preserve the profession's credibility, and sell out big time.

Chicken, meet egg.

So if my rationality is your business, you're going to have to get in the business of morality... Because until you educate me, I'll have to rely on trusting the most credible self-proclaimed paragon of virtue, and proto-scientific moral relativism doesn't even register on that radar.


Interesting too is the concept of amorphous, distributed and time-lagged consciousness.

Our own consciousness arises from an asynchronous computing substrate, and you can't help but wonder what weird schizophrenia would inhabit a "single" brain that stretches and spreads for miles. What would that be like? Ideas that spread like wildfire, and moods that swing literally with the tides?


By "strangers and superficial acquaintances", I didn't mean bosses or co-workers. In business, knowing the ground is important, but as a foreigner, you get more free passes for mistakes, you're not considered a fool for asking advice on basic behavior, and you can actually transgress on some (not all, not most) cultural norms and taboos with impunity, or even with cachet.

I was not talking specifically about Americans. Americans indeed tend to find out that they have a lot to answer for when traveling abroad. I believe this is also often compounded by provincialism and lack of cultural sensitivity on the part of the imperials: America is the most culturally insular western country I know.

At any rate, the crux of my point wasn't about an American's chances trying to play by the rules in a foreign country. My point was that the cultural baggage you accumulated as a child in your home country is worth more if you sell it where the supply is low, and the demand is high.

It's like trading silk or spices, but instead you're trading cultural outlook. When you're young, and a new entrant to the marketplace, your cultural outlook is not a competitive advantage at home. It's an automatic differentiator in a foreign country, where you can turn it into an edge. It's not a free pass, but it can be a shortcut.


Thank you! You have no idea just how helpful this comment is to me right now. Your answer to all-consuming nihilism is exactly what i needed!


I think there is a widespread emotional aversion to moving abroad, which means there must be great money to be made on arbitrage.

I think a lot of the aversion is fear of inferiority and/or ostracism. These are counter-intuitively misplaced.

The theory is this: You're worried that the people over there have their own way of doing things, they know the lay of the land, and they're competing hard at a game they've been playing together since they were born. Whereas you barely speak the language, don't know the social conventions, and have no connections. What chance could you possibly have of making money or making friends?

In practice, it's the opposite: Against a wildcard like you, they don't stand a chance!

If you're somewhat smart, you'll find that you have cultural superpowers in a foreign country: Your background gives you a different, unusual look on things which makes you interesting and exotic. At home, you'd be nothing special. And since your accent is cute, you'll be forgiven your blunders (at least by strangers and superficial acquaintances).

The same asymmetry applies to your education, your working style, etc. They are suddenly unique and refreshing. That can be parlayed into advantage, if used judiciously.

Playing 100% by the rules only guarantees that your playing field will be too crowded for you to get any breaks.

Where the market is irrationally risk-averse, take risks, young ones!


Yes, and I think this is the one big crucial exception... That is the one bit of knowledge that is truly evil. The one datum that is unbearable torture on the mind.

In that sense, one could define an adult mind as a normal (child) mind poisoned by the knowledge-of-death toxin. The older the mind, the more extensive the damage.

Most of us might see it more as a catalyst than a poison, but I think that's insanity justifying itself. We're all walking around in a state of deep existential panic, and that makes us weaker than children.

  • The sound of one hand clapping is "Eliezer Yudkowsky, Eliezer Yudkowsky, Eliezer Yudkowsky..."
  • Eliezer Yudkowsky displays search results before you type.
  • Eliezer Yudkowsky's name can't be abbreviated. It must take up most of your tweet.
  • Eliezer Yudkowsky doesn't actually exist. All his posts were written by an American man with the same name.
  • If Eliezer Yudkowsky falls in the forest, and nobody's there to hear him, he still makes a sound.
  • Eliezer Yudkowsky doesn't believe in the divine, because he's never had the experience of discovering Eliezer Yudkowsky.
  • "Eliezer Yudkowsky" is a sacred mantra you can chant over and over again to impress your friends and neighbors, without having to actually understand and apply rationality in your life. Nifty!
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